All posts by Lizzie Homersham

Chubz: the Demonization of my Working Arse (An Interview with Spitzenprodukte)

Chubz: the Demonization of my Working Arse is the first book by Huw Lemmey (aka Spitzenprodukte)—a work of fanfiction inspired by young Labour party member, author, and Guardian columnist Owen Jones. First person accounts of protagonist Chubz' hookups with Jones are interspersed with depressingly funny episodes recounting UKIP leader Nigel Farage's poppers-fuelled campaign. Sex and politics—contemporary cruising, self-representation, and brand identificationhave underpinned the majority of Lemmey's work prior to Chubz, including "Digital Dark Spaces" and "Devastation in Meatspace" (both The New Inquiry). A book launch for Chubz was held recently at Jupiter Woods, London (October 28), featuring readings from the book and from earlier material, including a poem by Timothy Thornton (found here as two PDFs). I spoke with Lemmey about his book in person and over email. The book can be purchased here.

LH: Over what period have you been writing Chubz, and what motivated you to use the mode of fanfiction to develop concerns about sex and politics that you'd previously expressed in journalistic fashion?

HL: I don't know when I started; I left London for a summer in 2012, during the Olympics, to live in Dublin. I guess when I was there I started putting down some ideas for what the book was going to become, but I was very much writing some sort of speculative futurist thing, trying to think about the city through a language of future branding. It felt very strange being out of the country that summer. I was sure the place would try to erupt like the year before, and worried about how that would play out given that there were literally soldiers on the street when I left in June. When I got back that autumn, and there weren't more riots, I was surprised, and now there's this point at the end of every summer where I'm still surprised they haven't happened.

It is certainly a book related to a lot of my earlier writing; it's about twin territories, an online social space and the city, and about how the two overlap, which is a preoccupation of mine. In this case it's Grindr, it's about how you can use Grindr to read the city and the city to read Grindr. They're two territories superimposed on each other, a digital augmentation of reality. I started writing fiction about it because the tools at my disposal for non-fiction just weren't sufficient, or I wasn't good enough at it. The way people use hook-up apps is too subjective, and I felt like the only way I could talk about it honestly was to talk about it partially, in both senses of the word. I talk to a lot of guys about how they use Grindr. I like to go for long walks through the city with people and it normally takes about an hour before guys stop talking about the things everyone talks about—the overt racism and homophobia, the aspects of timewasting and wanking and stuff—and start admitting to sometimes thinking quite deeply about how the whole process from download to hook-up affects the way they live in the city, and how they construct their own sexual desire within that.

As for the fanfiction; well I think Owen Jones as a public persona is kinda an interesting avatar. To be honest, he's completely instrumentalised in the book, devoid of real agency as a character, and totally 2-D. But his book [Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (Verso, 2012)], and the way he has produced himself as a public figure from the publicity surrounding it, is for me a really interesting hook to talk about the disconnect between class, sex, and politics as a Question Time debate, and as lived experience in streets and shops and bedrooms. That's the worst thing about public gay identity today; it's total fucking Ken-doll sexuality, reasserting categories for behaviour and binaries, full of these aspirations for acceptance and assimilation with men like Sam Smith banging on about husbands and puppies. It's boring and gross and violent.

 

 

Chapter 3, 20-21:

I'd done two hours overtime; my boss was acting the cunt all afternoon

– you do realise this is the sort of thing that's linked to your bonus Andrew

–  I know and

–  And I'll be writing your 6 month appraisal soon. Look I know it's a pain Andy, really, but it'd be really helpful if you could

Alright alright; two hours later, no pay guaranteed, I'm sick of this job already and I push my face against the window and feel the warm vibrations of the glass and the girls in front talking who each other are fucking. We stop at lights; days like this make me dizzy, my eyes too hot, tired and in need of instant response.

My smartphone needs to be squeezed from my pockets, and I swipe through my social networks. I load Grindr, ping through my messages; no, no, would suck but no, I load the feed, a mosaic of torsos; one wears a t-shirt and I can see a dark fleck I take for nipple through the white cotton. Lips are visible, just and a blue box appears in the corner. A message from the boy; this is how I met him, early in that summer heat, face worn out from work, beads of sweat meeting in my lower back. His name was Owen, and he sent me a facepic; cute, boyish, blonde hair surfing over delicious blue eyes.

 

LH:  Why did you decide that the Grindr profile encountered by Chubz should coincide with the official portrait the public are likely conjure when they think of Owen Jones? I also wondered if your references ("field of blue checks" (61)) to the shirt Jones wears in his press image are intended to reinforce the reader's perception of him as an establishment "straight acting" figure, or moreover to associate him with the grid of Grindr's homepage.

HL: I guess because I think one of the key themes of the book is about men with opinions. Men, and specifically white straight men, have this role within the mainstream of comment journalism which allows them to be almost disembodied with their opinions; they serve as an avatar of a political position, whether it's the muscular liberalism of men like Rod Liddle or Brendan O'Neill, the compassionate conservatism of Peter Oborne, the soft left liberalism of Dorian Lynskey and so on. But their position within society means they never have to perform their subjectivity in order to get that voice, in the way many women and trans journalists (who are often much sharper political and cultural brains) do. And I think Owen Jones fills a really interesting position on that spectrum, as an openly gay socialist, where he has to be clear and open in referring to his identity as a gay man without ever having to dip into deeper subjective reflection of his desires and desirability in print. I think the constant insistence that women have to recount themselves through this personal, subjective lens is a really abusive tool of dominance and control, so I can well understand why he steers away from it, but as the basis of a character for a novel I think it's really rich precisely because it's a public sexual image itself, totally disembodied. It's about removing sexual politics from being about the interaction of fleshy, meaty bodies contesting spaces and identities and manifest in both joyful and traumatising physicality, and making it this private, bourgeois politics of rights and contracts.

It's Jones' public avatar that's used here, because I don't know anything about him as a person. My interest is to put the flesh and fluid back into that avatar, but what better place to start than a literal avatar as the object of fantasy.  

 

 

Chapter 6, 70-72.

I try to talk to him, but he's gone now, to a better place; blood is returning to his face, and his stoned eyes flicker with comprehension. I bite my lip, I love the sleaze. He smiles at me, and in that moment I know he trusts me, he trusts my ass. It could do anything to him, anything at all, he's convinced. He smiles, and I smile, and he does it, he fucking does it, he forces his head between my legs. His hair bristles against my buttcheeks but there is no pain. Just pleasure, as my butt gulps him in, and I rock forwards and back, the greatest power bottom ever bred, a prizewinner, a destroyer of the penis.

The noise of the train is quieting, my butt is finishing the job, and within minutes he is pulled deep inside me, ingested, brewed, stewed by my ass till all that is left is his trousers trailing from my arsehole, his black socks coiled lifeless like used rubbers on the floor. I pant and breathe in victory, so proud of my heroic butthole. It plans its conquest. If I had my way it'd never stop. I'd let my anal juices, that seem to make my insides so desirable to all these ball havers, these swinging-totem poles, these bureaucrats and these penised shitehawks who insist on mouthbreathing round the city like little princes, I'd let my anal juices digest his skin and bones and all this fleshy matter like a flytrap, like a serpent. And now I've ingested Owen I don't want it to stop, I'd move onto the next man with my siren's buttocks, and one by one I'd suck them in and chew them up till one by one I'd hovered them all into my ever more muscular rectal cavity and before I'd realized I've destroyed the male sex, destroyed them all, in their entirety, one by one, every man who writes and speaks and passes laws and checks documents and has an opinion, and I'd let this hot acidic anal syrup digest me from the insides and eat me up too so that no man survives, no more men, even myself, one by one, just to make sure.

 

LH: In comparison with Nigel Farage, who appears in humorous episodes between Grindr hookups, and the abhorrent dad of Chapter 12, Jones is really very progressive. Sex with him leads Chubz to fantasize the destruction of all men, however. What is it about Jones that made him the ideal victim of symbolic sacrifice in your book?

HL: Well I think maybe there you're implying that the anal feasting is somehow an act of sexual-political violence? I couldn't disagree more; Jones' consumption by Chubz' rectum isn't some sort of punishment, it's a generous act of gift-giving, not symbolic sacrifice but the symbolic welcoming in to a corporeal community, isn't it? I suppose that's a matter of interpretation but I think the tension between the physical and the avatar is a tension that is the only thing that humanises the Jones' characters completely dull and uninteresting identity on the page. Orgasm is a moment of transference, a ceding of masculine power...

But in many ways Jones is supposed to be dull here; what's really interesting about IRL Owen Jones' interactions with those who claim a more radical position than him is his constant willingness to engage with them, which speaks volumes about his political project as I think he sees it, one of bringing together various different political positions into a cohesive leftist challenge to a dominantly right-wing or liberal media environment. I don't think he gets enough credit for that position, to be honest, and I think a lot of people to the left of him do him a disservice by not at least tacitly acknowledging that that's his political project. That's not to say their criticisms of him are often not very valid though; the point is the tension doesn't come through the different political positions but through the different attitudes towards communicating that politics. He's been proved right about that strategy, to a certain extent; there's definitely a gap in the public discourse for a reasonably traditional, stout socialist position. But whether that reflects on political change is something very different.

So then part of the subtext of the book is really about watching this public battle played out online between these two groups, two strategies of public acceptability, engaging on the terms of public argument, or more vicious, lived experience, the practice of a sort of online witness to the obscene inhumanities and fucking snowballing injustices of the UK today. I'm horribly indecisive but coming down on the side that what's actually important is making the real, visceral cruelties of the moment legible, and even unavoidable, and highlighting the complete lack of options, the dissolution of hope in any sort of socialist redemption.

 

 

Chapter 8, 89-91

In my mind I make a composite of Faron from the photos on his profile. How his head fits his body, how the skin from one photo, distorted through a dirty mirror, blends with the skin on his torso, bleached dry from the flash and the low voltage lighting of the gym shower rooms. He's a collage of iPhone shots, a frankenstein top I'm piecing together from bits of grindr and second-hand sensations.

(…)

Whatever happens, he cannot know how much I would give to take that drop of him alive on my tongue. I'm a different boy online, I write out his fantasies, what he needs to hear to bring me over. This is how I live. I project in type the form he needs me to take. Each bright red message betrays a new falsehood to him.

I get a particular thrill from sex organized online. I measure the hookups in data involved, uploaded or downloaded. I can trace the development of our social tension and sexual thrill through datestamps, and I can count them in bytes. I have never heard this man's voice. I have never seen his flesh bristle and twitch; every hint, insinuation, every targeted pause, I can account for as data. I never do. I never run the analysis. Quantifying is not the thrill. Disembodiment is the thrill, mediation, running desire through culture. Description, narrative. His hands are coded to his body, his body coded into flesh as the front door peels open.

 

LH: Can you talk more about the ideas of disembodiment and writing desire expressed in the above extract, as well as in the final pages, where these ideas are framed politically? (For example: "my strategy is bodily love," "The breakdown of security for the rich and powerful in London was tied so closely to our feet and legs and chests and arseholes I could only marvel" (177), "we used [our bodies] together like a diagram, a diagram of a process all linked, how my body worked with the body of the boy I'm next to—that became our politics because that's where power was." (178)).

Though in Chubz these themes are approached from a gay perspective, they resonate with the text read at the launch by Aimee Heinemann, who entertains a moment beyond orientation, gender and even the category of human, also facilitated by the internet:

In the future nobody will ask ASL, we will ask AVM—animal, vegetable, or mineral? Spit-and-sawdust internet cafe, the beings who have decided not to be people, linguistic post-humanism, the revolutionary potential of the intersex friendly ghost, chaotic good dragon kin, deaf transatlantic mermaid, ALL GODS NO MASTERS, the post body is the most body, be a dragon and a queen. (via)

HL: I don't know. I can't speak for Aimee. But speaking for myself, my body and the bodies of lovers is not something I've begun to come to terms with. I've never felt forced to encounter my own body like I think a lot of people, especially women, are. You can just ride around in it at as a bloke. So it's only begun as a conscious process since I started to acknowledge that. And it's much easier to come to terms with bodies through mediation because there's just so much access to mediated bodies. I do dream in drop-down UIs. I do feed upon the pornographic image as a building block of my own desires. I do think the iPhone is the country's most popular sexual prosthesis. I can't theorise beyond my immediate feelings about this any more than to say that communist politics is always, has always been and will always be a politics of bodies; of the mass worker, of the body at work, of the abject body, of bodies as tools and of the utopian ideal of the body as ours to decide. And I remain a communist, albeit one unable to coherently express a single practical political vision other than that we must get there through some sort of process of bodily self-direction.

 

 

Postscript, 182-183.

You can't forget the panic of consummation, the burning streets, the 1000 ski masks with fat penises where the eyes of the loser militia should be.

The key to a happy, healthy life and sense of wellbeing is ensuring an intelligent relationship with your key life-brands. Keep your personal portfolio of brands fresh and balanced.

The feeling of being part of a mob bears little relation to its representation. At least, that's my experience. If you want to feel like an individual who has importance, join a mob. I enjoy situations of civil disorder because I enjoy watching people trying to kill each other.

The looter and the online pirate are the subjectivities with the clearest, most intuitive comprehension of the nature of contemporary semio-capitalism; they are the brand ambassadors, and if they cannot be harnessed they will overrun and destroy it. A strategy must be had for disempowering and utilising us: and it cannot be legislative.

(...)

The strains and insults incurred through the day, the working day, that are pushed between the two of us. We can rework the social tensions of him, the white-collar yuppy, the buy-to-let landlord, the ethicist in the supermarket aisle, the profiteer and the privateer, the bastard, the nice guy, Mr Nice Guy, the nice guy who means well, and me, the 6-month let, 6-month contract, managed and manager—we can rework those tensions between thumb and forefinger when we peel off clothes, like blu-tak.

The working life of the new European millennial is not regimented according to time-and-motion studies; it is teased by the psychological rudder of management. It is nudged, silently, friendly-like.

The future extends to the end of my contract.

 

LH: The temporal space occupied by Chubz is very interesting, both in terms of the near future political portraits of Farage's rise juxtaposed with his backward looking policies and hand in getting the country "gripped by 1950s fever" (79), and the postscript's allusion to "No Future," (the Sex Pistols' slogan, the title of Lee Edelman's book, and a way of describing the idea of non-reproductivity that I see in your book, both in terms of refusing to rear children, and in terms of resisting a capitalist logic of culture and labor) which sets the book's concerns in a historical context of gay culture and the gay relation to futurity in different moments. Can you comment on this?

HL: I can't help but find the idea of "No Future" dispiriting, disempowering. I suppose it's how I feel right now, how I think a lot of people, especially young people feel, so within Chubz it's a rootless, disaffected, terrified sense of no future. Part of this is the lack of any coherent public political vision of alternative, something fostered by both the government and the Labour Party in order to continue the regime of austerity, of course. But I can't find it in me to buy into an aggressive queer notion of no future as being a stand against biopolitical domination. It's a powerful piece of invective, a weapon against the totalising, aggressive dominance of the family. And I've certainly bought into it in the past, especially when put up against so much "hard-working families" bullshit. But it cedes too much. What queer people (especially young queers) need to survive, I think, and have always needed, in the face of a gender and economic system which has only ever offered an injunction of no future, is the opposite: solidarity and hope. We just need to continue our work in building that. The no future of Chubz is descriptive not prescriptive.

Chubz launched on 28 October at Jupiter Woods, London, with readings from Huw Lemmey, Aimee Heinemann, Timothy Thornton, Jesse Darling, Adam Christensen and Onyeka Igwe.

Published by Montez Press.

Artist Profile: Adriana Ramić

The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.

Adriana Ramić, The Return Trip is Never the Same (After Trajets de Fourmis et Retours au Nid, M. Victor Cornetz, 1910), 2014. Ebook, 82 pages. Installation view, Smart Objects, from the exhibition "Never cargo terminal has recently discovered the trembling hand of state secrets resounding oversold bounce child."

Lizzie Homersham: The work you exhibited in the recent show at Los Angeles' Smart Objects ("Never cargo terminal has recently discovered the trembling hand of state secrets resounding oversold bounce child," Jul 12 - Aug 8, 2014) was produced by retracing a series of ant pathways onto an Android Swype keyboard, then translating these movements into every available language. What prompted you to consider the smallest of animals in relation to your personal production of language on a smartphone?

Adriana Ramić: Both their tiny scale and presence in popular imagination drew me to study ants—but perhaps more influential were the scientific discoveries about their communication habits that anthropomorphized them in an interesting, abstract manner. Olga Kostenko, the researcher behind this 2012 study at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology, describes insects leaving chemical messages in the soil for future generations as an act through which "the insects relive the past." Jussi Parikka's book Insect Media (2010) also drew very insightful connections from insect behavior. More broadly, the symbolic application or correlation of insect logic to other purposes, like artificial intelligence (networks, swarm intelligence), and military practices (robotic prototypes, models for drones), was influential.

From The Return Trip is Never the Same (After Trajets de Fourmis et Retours au Nid, M. Victor Cornetz, 1910), 2014. Ebook, 82 pages. 

To return to the case of ants specifically, the status of their movements as informational exchanges was of direct relevance to working with gesture on mobile—partially because the way they develop a complex network of trails seemed to be a form of communication, and also because of the vagaries in their paths (at least seemingly, to an observer).

Ant trails were studied by the French civil engineer and topographer Victor Cornetz while researching navigation with people living on the edge of the Sahara. His 1910 book titled Trajets de Fourmis et Retours au Nid (Pathways of ants and returns to the nest) collects his drawings derived from this ants going between their nest and what was typically a food source. He noted that "...the return trip is never identical with the outgoing trip, though lying not far away and being in the main parallel."1

From the book Trajets de fourmis et retours au nid., Victor Cornetz, 1910.

I found this book while I was in Paris this year as part of an 89plus artist residency at the Google Cultural Institute, where I also began attending meetings of the Paris Association of Coleopterists (Association des Coléoptéristes de la Région parisienne). I was hoping to collaborate with experienced beetle enthusiasts, who count former military generals and famous mathematicians among their ranks. Some members kindly referred me to another scientist working in the catacomb bureaus of the Museum of Entomology, who generously lent me Cornetz's book. It became the source material for The Return Trip is Never the Same (2014), an ebook with texts created from redrawing the pathways onto the Android Swype keyboard in every available language, and accompanied at Smart Objects by a series of works on paper titled Nobody Messages from Nautilus (2014).

LH: This project reminds me of Architects of Gamma Bad, in which you used optical character recognition and Google Translate to transcribe a found text found written on the walls of a house in Zhujiacun, China that was slated for demolition. Can you talk about your use of language-producing algorithms in The Return Trip is Never the Same? Did you edit any of the writing that the ants produced?

AR: In terms of composition and editing, one of my interests in language production via predictive text is how it both reinforces and avoids idiom and cliché. Swype-mediated communication is constrained to the crowdsourced analysis of contemporary vocabulary and your own typical writing habits, which are tracked in order to personalize the predictions. The visual, gestural input of Swype and the analytic predictions it offered, led to the fluid creation (a phrase I've likely recalled from Swype's own advertising) of new texts. Imagining how these ants' pathways could string together semi-sensical sentences in every supported language became a means to bring the two ideas together in a way that could be formally interesting as well as a bit humorous, while engaging with various histories of automatic writing, mark making, entomology, speech, and the global expansion of Western technocracy.

The end results were single sentences, and compiled unedited.

Here are some epigrams from the ants found in the book, translated into English by Google Translate:

- "Punishment browser" (Indonesian)

- "Remember Churchill's chat weight" (Danish)

- "Inequality ruins rework" (Estonian)

- "Cutesy river Cartier-Bresson Byzantine" (French)

- "France-related human rights recommendations Kesset economy casualties :-)" (Icelandic)

- "Adomaitytė would like to reserve a little cat celebrity presenting me not to issue the order to protract taking lethargy love the conviction of those experts break down departmental ruth diverts energy interests Congress Chernobyl" (Lithuanian)

- "Ecstasy orphaned swift acceptance gently yogurt bank mental health award zero cattle gym arose requires free debt as many citizens continue artillery incoming vehicle council debate eg crowds deemed museum" (Dutch)

LH: On your "Travelogue" tumblr you shared snapshots taken in travels around the world as well as screenshots taken in travels around the web. Did the process of documenting these journeys inform more complex works such as Room Visits, in which detailed climate readings inspire sensitive ink drawings?

AR: I renamed my tumblr from "Blog" to "Travelogue" to resituate a collection of (primarily) photos as traces of time spent in specific locations outside of a studio. I wasn't so interested in using the tumblr or the term travelogue to state a special distinction between URL and IRL, as I was in observing the banal marks left by arrangement and signification in different geographical spaces and the infrastructures they might point to.

Room Visits (2011) is also about the possibility of experiencing a place through a particular infrastructure, though in this case much more quantified, by attempting to indecipherably inhabit fluctuations in temperature, pressure, humidity, and brightness observed in real-time data uploaded by users to Xively.com, a site which at the time operated like a YouTube of data feeds.

12 minutes in mkishere’s room, Hong Kong (2011). From Room Weather Data, Fo Tan, Hong Kong. Pressure ranging from 1000.3 - 1033 hPa. Ink on paper, 36" x 26."

LH: In Craigslist-assisted Readymade (2011), an online application which selects three random, free-of-charge items from a random US region on Craigslist and presents them as a propositional readymade, you use live data in a way that refuses a (traditional experience of) contemplative viewing; the objects are forever changing and moving beyond reach. To what extent did you think of consistency or stability as something to avoid?

AR: I'm not necessarily avoiding consistency because the essential parameters of three free items somewhere random in America remains constant. Free stuff goes quickly on Craigslist, so the person who views the items as part of the stand-alone app or browser extension I designed could, theoretically, obtain them and take them out of circulation.

Craigslist-Assisted Readymade (East Oregon, January 23, 2014, 11:56:03 PM) (2011). Giant Wooden Stump (Boise), Free Carlson Maxi Gate Extension (Star), 3- 215/55/17 tires Free (nampa), HTML, CSS, JavaScript. 

Meanwhile, it's much more likely that the compositions are being constantly altered by Craigslist's millions of visitors, even before the (art) viewer gets to see them. Craigslist-assisted Readymade also exists as screenshot editions of selected combinations, or sculptural works in which the three selected objects have been physically obtained, assembled and supplemented with their classifieds listings. On one hand, these present a series of single, unchanging compositions, but on the other, the process of re-circulating the objects, regardless of whether the items have been obtained or are still being advertised, means that they are to some extent still moving, never quite static.

LH: Like Craigslist-assisted Readymade, Unicode Power Stones and its accompanying Collector's Guide suggest an interest in rethinking forms of collection and valuation. For that work, you've been engraving stones with Unicode symbols, displaying them digitally and formulating ways for them to be obtained at auction online. The system for the latter remains undecided. Do you think there are reasons to intervene in the systems inherited from the traditional art market, considering the digital foundations of much of your work?

Unicode Power Stones (U+0107, U+0270, U+0414, U+06AD, U+0AA5, U+0F53, U+1F1D, U+20AC, U+2318, U+2531, U+288D, U+29E4, U+300F, U+307A, U+323F, U+4E0D, U+A030, U+1D332) (2013-). Engraved stone. Dimensions variable. 

AR: I recall our discussions last year about the conceptual pricing of works, like in the case of Unicode Power Stones (ongoing since 2013), where the pricing of each unique character's stone could be subjective (e.g. based on an auction), or egalitarian—in which case quotation marks and obscure hieroglyphs would both command the same price. The fact that pricing a Unicode Power Stone also necessitates assigning a value to a written character or symbol is one of the more difficult and interesting aspects of the piece for me. I think that the choice to resist or embrace the conventional art market isn't one necessarily motivated by the medium being digital, but that there definitely are opportunities to reconsider valuation. And interesting ones to seize.


Age: 25

Location: New York

How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?

In elementary school I started making websites devoted to different types of animals.

Where did you go to school? What did you study?

University of California, San Diego (Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts and Studio Art).

What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?

Design and development.

What does your desktop or workspace look like?

A white room with minimal furniture and a default desktop background. Travel and hard-drive failure have wiped my homes clean, but I'm preparing for a marimo future.


Notes

1. Dr. Rudolph Brun, "The Instinct of Orientation of Ants: The Operation of the Homing Instinct," Scientific American Monthly, 1-2 (1920): 55.